June 11, 2020

Take A Coastal Road Trip From San Francisco to Half Moon Bay

Bay Area weather is ever-changing. To make the most of your drive, outfit your vehicle with the newest all-season ultra-high-performance tire, the MICHELIN® Pilot® Sport All Season 4. Enjoy the twists and turns of this drive with the tire’s superior performance in all seasons (wet, dry, and cold) and a design that stands out from the crowd.

This half- to full-day driving tour takes you along pretty San Mateo County Coast, from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay. To extend the tour, continue on to Big Basin Redwoods State Park (not to be confused with Redwood National Park). This is a scenic driving tour, so your route is the prettiest, not the fastest. All driving times given below are approximate.

To help combat the spread of covid-19, some venues below may be closed. Check opening hours before you go.

Untouched by the sprawl of the city to its north or the urbanized peninsula area to its east, coastal San Mateo County is geographically isolated by the San Gregorio and Santa Cruz mountain ranges and protected against development by the relative lack of a practical commuter route. This is good news for those out for a leisurely drive. Highway 1 narrows to two lanes as it runs south from Pacifica through the farming and fishing villages of Moss Beach, Princeton, San Gregorio, and Pescadero. South of Point San Pedro, the highway narrows and swerves around steep cliffs dramatically striated with rock layers formed from ancient marine sediments.

Highway 1 by Devil's Slide Highway 1 by Devil's Slide. Photo © Jairo Leiva/iStock

Today, a 1.3-mile stretch of the highway has been converted to a paved, protected path for walkers, runners, hikers, and cyclists who enjoy knockout views of the ocean. Small beaches dot the coastline, superb spots for strolling, tidepooling, and wildlife observation. From January to April, gray whales may be seen migrating offshore. Before leaving San Francisco, pack your car with a few reusable grocery bags and cooler (to carry home perishables) and pick up a few provisions for the drive. Swing by one of the city’s many farmers’ markets and bag up a punnet of strawberries, deep purple plums, or juicy oranges. These are the same farmers who supply to a number of Michelin-rated restaurants in the Bay Area, like 1601 Bar & Kitchen, Del Popolo, and Mister Jiu’s.

Ferry Plaza Farmer's market, San Francisco. Photo © anouchka/iStock

Driving out of San Francisco

Drive south out of San Francisco on Hwy. 1 (19th Ave.) or Rte. 35 (Skyline Blvd.), which intersects Hwy. 1 south of Daly City.
Particularly if driving with kids, make your first stop J V Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (approx. 45 min). Shale reefs bridge the expanse between land and sea, creating tidepools richly populated with myriad marine life, including mussels, sea urchins, starfish, anemones, hermit crabs, and abalone. The tidepools are best explored during low tide (otherwise you won’t be able to see any of the creatures—see tide tables). You can explore them on your own or guided by a park ranger. Leave your car at the marine reserve and walk to and then through the serene, ethereal Seal Cove Cypress Tree Tunnel, a half-mile trail under a tunnel of regal cypress trees.

Tide pools, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Photo by Jay Graham, courtesy of Visit Half Moon Bay

On your way into Half Moon Bay proper, stop at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company (5 min down the road) and get a few bottles or a growler to go. Drive on (10 min) to Half Moon Bay, and pop over to Andreotti Family Farm, where all the produce they grow and then some is sold inside a barn—piles of yellow peppers, punnets of luscious cherries, big, shiny bunches of red Swiss chard. For lunch, walk 10 minutes to MICHELIN Plate restaurant Café Capistrano, a quaint Mayan eatery in an older yellow house. Befitting its surroundings, the vibe here is warm and homey and colorful plates of fish tacos and pork adobo heaping and delicious. Add a bottle of their house-made habanero hot sauce to the growing stash of food in your car. Sated, walk around the corner to Cunha’s Country Store, a general store whose shelves groan with all manner of local goods: kombucha from nearby Moss Beach Kombucha, bread from Arcangeli Grocery in Pescadero, Marianne’s ice cream from Santa Cruz, organic skincare products from Half Moon purveyor Garden Apothecary, and Cunha’s ample line of house-made jams and sauces.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. Photo courtesy of Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.

Half Moon Bay’s cute downtown has a few art galleries to pop into: Unleashed, showcasing work by pro golfer-turned-painter Christie Smith, Kevin Henney Gallery, where landscape photographer Henney exhibits his work, and the Coastal Arts League which puts on sculpture, painting, photographer, and ceramics shows.

Coastal Arts League. Photo courtesy of Coastal Arts League

Where to drive next:

From here, you can return to San Francisco along the mostly-coastal Highway 1 (approx. 1h) or continue south to Big Basin Redwoods State Park (approx. 1.5h). The park closes at sunset; if you’re on a day trip from San Francisco, you can have dinner on your drive back. If you’re planning to stay overnight, see Where to stay below.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Photo by Yuval Helfman, courtesy of Visit Santa Cruz County

If you’re doing this drive July through October and you’ve got kids in tow, pull in at Arata’s Pumpkin Farm, 15 minutes south of Half Moon Bay, for some wholesome fun (think hay maze, haunted house, petting zoo, and pumpkins in every size). Continue southeast along Highway 1. For hiking snacks, pull into tiny Pescadero and pick up a few at 91-year-old Arcangeli. Drive on to Big Basin Redwoods visitor’s center (approx. 1h10m). This is California’s oldest state park, 118 years old, but its regal inhabitants have been standing far longer: 1,000 to 1,800 years. Some of its redwoods are more than 50 feet in circumference. There are more than 80 miles of trails here, and the views are gorgeous: the Pacific Ocean, cascading waterfalls, and lush redwood forest filled with birds, deer, and even bobcats.

Arcangeli's Garlic Herb & Artichoke Bread. Photo by Paritha Wannawanit, courtesy of Arcangeli

Where to stay

The scenic (highway-free) route from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay takes about an hour, so it’s an easy half- or full-day trip from the city. If you want to spend the night in Half Moon Bay, here’s where to book:

Beach House Half Moon Bay

The 54 rooms at this oceanfront hotel are designed to look like homey beach cottages, with living room areas that open onto a balcony or patio. At sunset you’ll see a few brave surfers tackling crashing waves; at sunset, walk out onto Half Moon Bay jetty and watch as the sun melts into the Pacific. A light breakfast is included in the hotel’s room rate; next door is casual seafood restaurant Sam’s Chowder Joint, and just down the road is Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. Beach House is 10 minutes’ drive from downtown Half Moon Bay (you can also bike roughly 25 minutes along the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail). Low season from $265; high season $305

Beach House Half Moon Bay. Photo courtesy of Tablet Hotels

If you want to spend the night near Big Basin Redwoods State Park, here’s where to book:

Fairview Manor Bed & Breakfast

Twenty-five minutes’ drive from Big Basin’s visitor center is this charming four-room inn in a 1920s house. In the living room is a rock fireplace made of rocks from the San Lorenzo River, which runs along the verdant property. Take in a view of it from the back deck, a lovely place to enjoy a complimentary glass of wine or a handful of the blueberries that grow wildly in September. Breakfast is a delicious feast prepared by wife-and-husband owners Gael and Jack and often includes fresh blueberry scones, assorted egg dishes, fruit and properly-brewed coffee; dietary restrictions are accommodated with ease.
Note that this property has a two-night minimum; $338 total